Well that was a strange game.
We started on the front foot and looked confident and dangerous. Odegaard had a great opportunity to put us ahead in the third minute but scuffed a first-time shot wide. Three minutes later an Aubameyang header from a Bellerin cross was tipped onto the crossbar by Sa, the Olimpiacos ‘keeper.
You felt it was only a matter of time before our dominance would lead to a goal.
As we all know, however, those are just the kind of occasions when Arsenal are at their most vulnerable.
Clown Car Moment #1: With the Greeks struggling to make any opportunities of their own, we thought we would help them out. Odegaard set up a great chance for the Olimpiacos No 27 Bruma with a perfectly placed ‘no look’ pass into the inside right channel. (By ‘no look’ I mean the Norwegian didn’t bother looking to see if there might be any risk in playing a weak ball across the front of his own penalty area). Fortunately Bruma swept it straight at Leno.
Having failed with our first kamikaze attempt, we finally got the goal our pressure deserved, Odegaard making amends by blasting a rocket of a shot past Sa. I have seen it said that Sa flapped at it, but that shot was hit with vicious power and swerved before dipping right at the end. I don’t think the goalie had a chance.
One nil up away from home, time to start managing the game and taking no risks, right?
Haha – you know what’s coming.
Clown Car Moment #2: A few minutes after we’d taken the lead, David Luiz, deep in his own penalty area, took a heavy touch then inexplicably attempted to play the ball across his own goal with an attacker, Masouras, literally two feet away from him. Fortunately for Arsenal Masouras blasted the ball high over the bar from the edge of the six yard box. With just a modicum of composure he could have passed it into the net.
Half time came with a strange combination of emotions: satisfaction at being ahead and having scored an away goal; disappointment at not having converted more of our opportunities and relief at the fact that our best efforts to gift Olimpiacos a goal had come to nothing.
The Greeks started the second half with more purpose and 12 minutes after the restart you could hear the sound of honking horns and discordant klaxons as a certain vehicle took to the pitch again.
Clown Car Moment #3: Leno received a back pass just outside his area. He had all the time in the world to clear it up field or pass to a safe area. Instead the German played it straight down the middle to Dani Ceballos, who was facing his own goal and had three Olimpiacos players in close attention. Ceballos took a bad touch and was dispossessed, with Leno still miles off his line. El Arabi was able to pass into the empty goal from the edge of the D. The Greeks were level.
By this point most Arsenal supporters could scarcely believe what they were watching. We were bossing the game while at the same time jabbing a sharpened pencil in our eye every chance we got.
I wouldn’t say my heart had sunk, but at this stage it was definitely holed below the waterline and wallowing badly.
But we are nothing if not unpredictable. With 10 minutes of normal time remaining Gabriel, who was having a very good game, rose with power and determination to meet a Willian cross and direct a long, looping header into the goal. There was a nervy moment with the Olimpiacos defender trying to get it disallowed by feigning a head injury, but the goal stood.
Then, five minutes later, the substitute Elneny fired home a third from long range to cement an excellent result and put us in a very strong position for the return leg.
I, for one, was not sure quite what to feel at the final whistle. Certainly I was delighted with the scoreline, but the continued evidence of our shoot-ourselves-in-the-foot tendencies was quite alarming.
After a succession of suicidal unforced mistakes in recent games up to and including last Saturday, you would think the players would be prioritising error elimination above all else. Yet here we were making three truly terrible unforced blunders in just one game. Thank goodness we’re in the EL and not the Champions League, because a decent team would have punished all three of those cock-ups.
I generally approve of what Arteta is doing and I can see improvements in our style of play. But if El Patron does not get on top of this error problem then he has to go, it’s as simple as that. We simply cannot progress when any good work we do at the pointy end is liable to be immediately undermined by stupidity at the blunt end. I have no idea how the problem can be fixed (we have regularly speculated about it hereabouts), but fixed it must be – and urgently.
We have a particularly resonant league fixture coming up on Sunday. If we decide to wheel out the clown car against the Spuds, can you really see Kane, Bale and Son failing to take the chances we give them?
For now, though, let’s celebrate a very good result putting us in pole position to make it through to the last eight of the Europa League.
Leno – 5
At least partly to blame for the Olimpiacos goal. That’s two in two games where the German has contributed to gifting the opponents a goal. It has to stop.
Bellerin – 6.5
No major errors and made a couple of good opportunities for his team mates at the attacking end. I still feel he could be more adventurous going forward at times.
Luiz – 5
Did his best to gift Olimpiacos a goal but was pretty solid apart from that.
Gabriel – 8 MoTM
Dominant defensively and scored with a terrific header at a time when we really needed a goal.
Tierney – 7
Made some good opportunities with his trademark runs to the byline and crosses, particularly early on.
Partey – 7
Good all-round performance, apart from one rugby conversion of a shot.
Xhaka – 6.5
Left the clown car duties to others in this game and put in a solid shift.
Saka – 6.5
Some good moments but his form has dipped a little in the last couple of games, perhaps through tiredness. But even at sub-par he is still one of our best players.
Odegaard – 7.5
Missed a sitter early on, almost gifted a goal to the opposition and in the first half hour was really slowing down our play. But after scoring an outstanding goal he seemed to grow in confidence and influence and had a great 50+ minutes. Very promising.
Willian – 6
His recent outings have moved from the “abysmal’ category to the “OK” category. That’s progress, I suppose.
Aubameyang – 6.5
A couple of good opportunities for the captain, including a header tipped onto the bar, but he also spent long periods uninvolved.
Ceballos – 4.5
Takes too many touches. Gifted a goal to the opposition. No need to extend his loan or consider buying him after this season.
Pepe – 6
Got 13 minutes and did some Pepe stuff.
Elneny – 7
Go Mo Go! Came on to shore up the midfield and protect our 2-1 lead, but ended up making the tie a lot more secure by scoring a belter.
Smith Rowe – 6
I just like watching him on and off the ball.